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Brilliant: Olympus E-P5 reviewed

By Leigh D. Stark | 4:51 pm 02/09/2013

Looking like a piece out of history, the Olympus E-P5 takes design elements from yesterday and combines it with tech from today, resulting in a camera that looks like it will be one of the best we’ve ever seen. Does it succeed, or is the Olympus E-P5 all flash and no substance?

Features

The latest in the reincarnated Pen series, the E-P5 follows up the E-P3 and skips the fourth number moniker, something we’ve seen from various companies operating out of Asia.

This version continues the design Olympus has been refining since it brought back in the first digital Pen cameras a few years ago, while increasing the specs and tightening up ergonomics and controls.

To start with, consumers will find the Olympus 16.1 megapixel LiveMOS sensor in this camera, up from the E-P3’s 12 megapixel, with a supported sensitivity range from 100 to 25600. Multiple aspect ratios are supported in this camera, ranging from the traditional 4:3, wide 16:9, square 6:6, and also supporting 3:2 and 3:4.

The camera features several focusing modes, and while there’s no built-in electronic viewfinder, there is a 3 inch articulating LCD on the back supporting 1.04 million dots and touch.

Like other entries in the digital Olympus Pen series, this camera supports the Micro Four Thirds lenses, meaning it should be compatible with any lenses in this system, including those from Olympus, Panasonic, and other manufacturers supporting it. Vibration reduction in the camera is taken care of thanks to 5-axis image stabilisation.

Shooting speed on this camera maxes out at 9 frames per second, two self-timers are available (2 seconds and 12 seconds), and numerous shooting modes are supported, including art, scene modes, framed images set up like a comic strip or multi-windowed piece of art, and manual modes.

Movie capture is also available here, with a stereo microphone built in helping the sensor to capture Full HD video to the camera’s SD card slot.

A flash is built in, too.

There are numerous buttons and dials on this camera as well as a hot-shoe mount and data port for Olympus accessories like the electronic viewfinder, while a tripod mount is underneath the camera.

Ports on this camera include one for USB and A/V out, and a microHDMI, while the battery compartment door holds the bays for the battery and SD card.

Performance

Making new things look old or retro isn’t exactly unusual these days, mind you, and everyone is doing it. We saw Samsung do that in the NX300 recently, and Fuji now does it across its range. Olympus does have a legacy in film, though, and it even had a “Pen” range, which is what the E-P5 continues.

Looking at that history is where the E-P5 comes from, and in this camera, Olympus appears to have crafted one of the finest nods to the old cameras we’ve ever seen.

We’ll start with the design which is classic Olympus. Our review model was silver with black detailing, though you can get the body in all black, with both of these colour options more or less acting as the traditional colour schemes for cameras.

We’re okay with that, and design-wise, this camera does look old school, with metal and plastic sections, a leather textured grip, and that retro “Olympus Pen” branding that looks like it walked right out of the seventies and plonked itself down here.

The metal look is also reflected in the build, and while this camera weighs every bit of its 420 grams without the lens, it also feels like a camera.

If you’re at all familiar with the old school metal cameras, you know exactly what we’re talking about, with strength in the body, and an overall heft that makes it feel like you’re carrying something worthwhile.

Olympus has more or less nailed ergonomics on this camera. While the body is smaller than a DSLR, you can still hold the E-P5 like a traditional camera, with your left hand under the body and lens, and your right hand gripping the side with the shutter on it.

On that side, you’ll find too perfectly metal wheels – one for your thumb, the other for your forefinger – making it easy to change settings on the fly, especially if you’re in manual (M) mode and you need to make your way around the shutter and aperture settings.

A second dial on the top will let you select the mode you want to shoot in, and this too is in easy reach.

A mappable function button sits up top, too, while the back features a smattering of buttons that make it easier to shoot with.

One of our favourites is the control selection switch, which allows you to jump between two sets of controls quickly, each able to be customised by you. For instance, the first position for us let us change the aperture and shutter speed using the main dials, while the second position changed those dials to fiddling with white balance and ISO settings.

It’s a good design, and one that lets you quickly modify settings very quickly.

Also of use is the magnifying glass button sitting just beneath the control switch, which will zoom in quickly to a part of whatever you’re focusing on, showing you the image at between 50 and 100 percent in a specific section, thereby allowing you to see the detail up close and nail focus yourself (below).

When you fire the shot, you’ll see the entire image, but you’ll have focused for roughly 100 percent, essentially giving you the sharpest image you can get.

It’s especially useful if you’re using manual focus, as it allows you to change that focus quickly, and we found it very useful when getting up close and personal with flora and fauna, as it helped us to find the detail we wanted to see in our images. Also of note is that the feature works regardless of what you’re using to take your photos: rear LCD or optional electronic viewfinder.

We’re glad to see the flash is still around from the E-P3, too, at least providing you with something if you don’t have an external, and the LCD touchscreen on the back is quite responsive, too.’

Moving on past the design is the camera performance itself, and here it seems Olympus has literally nailed this camera.

Switching it on is quick, with the camera starting up in half a second, and ready to fire pretty much immediately after.

Two methods of control are available in the E-P5, with a touchscreen on the back that is responsive, and then the button and dial controls populating the body. Most people will end up using a combination of the two, as the menu can be easy to use for those of us familiar with smartphones and tablets, and the buttons and dials seem to result in quicker photography.

Then it’s simply a matter of selecting your mode – iAuto, art, scene, image framing, movie, program (P), aperture (A), shutter speed (S), and manual (M) – and taking shots.

Daylight images are simply lovely here, and regardless of the lens we selected to use with this camera, images turned out sharp, detailed, and quite respectable.

Our selection of glass included the 12mm f/2.0, 17mm f/1.8, and the 45mm f/1.8, and every lens seemed made for this camera, with excellent images coming out with each shot.

At one point, when the dogs were being treated with a bath, we stuck the camera on a high-speed mode, keeping RAW on, and fired off shots as water ran both over their heads and sprayed from as they shook the liquid off.

Each time, the E-P5 quickly fired a burst, providing sharp RAW images from the moments we were so desperately trying to catch.

Five seconds at ISO 1600 in Kiama

Later on, we decided to see what the noise looked like, and fired some images of the sky, capturing pictures of the Milky Way above from a town in southern NSW.

While there was obviously some dotting and speckles normally associated with low light and high sensitivity settings, it was only over 6400 that it became very noticeable.

Five seconds at ISO 2500 in Kiama

Inside the camera, the Olympus 5-axis image stabilisation also seems to help, something we noticed as we held the camera and braced a pole, pulling the shutter speed down to one second and shooting the stars with little to no movement, a result that would normally have been littered with vibrations had this been our DSLR.

The black and white mode

Also of note is the art modes, which are now more customisable and can be fired all at once.

That first part – the customisation – means you can make the black and white mode adopt different colour filters, and provide vignetting or frames for other modes.

We’re big fans of monochromatic photography, and the level of grain, as well as filtration possibilities means that taking photos in this style isn’t just taking a desaturated image, which isn’t really a black and white photo. You also get the original image in RAW if that mode is switched on, meaning you can properly process it later on.

The bracketing is especially cool, as it lets you fire one shot in RAW or JPEG, and then immediately take advantage of every art mode to see what the image would look like interpreted through each of them. Conversely, you can switch off the modes you don’t want to see the images converted through.

We’re quite happy with 16 megapixels, and the Olympus LiveMOS sensor used in this camera is one of the nicer sensors we’ve seen of late.

Overall, the image quality shines, and is easy to fall in love with, provided you have the right glass for whatever you’re shooting.

Also of note here is the WiFi functionality, which allows you to link up either a smartphone or tablet with your E-P5, creating a direct connection using a small wireless network.

With this engaged, you simply fire up the Olympus Image Share app and either import your images, or control the camera remotely, the latter of which lets you use your touchscreen device to select the focus point and fire, or simply fire from the shutter button.

Once your phone or tablet has fired the image, it can be saved to both that device and the camera, making it easy to Instagram, share on Facebook or Twitter, or even edit locally using app-based tools such as Snapseed, which makes for simple processing when you don’t have a computer with Photoshop handy.

Battery life also proved decent, and we managed around 200-400 photos with wireless control also used before the battery started whining about needing recharging.

Art bracketing lets you see one picture under several art modes.

Ultimately, the Olympus E-P5 proved to be an excellent camera. The few issues we did have, though seem to come down to something regarding the industrial design of the camera.

We’re probably the second or third reviewer to take this specific E-P5, but already within a month or two of use, the “On/off” switch markings are fading away.

While not a huge issue – and one that won’t likely bother you since the switch isn’t hard to work out – it doesn’t bode well for other sections that have been printed on the body.

The touchscreen on the back is very nice and crisp, but ultimately, it doesn’t have a lot of versatility in angles. You can pull it out, set it at 90 degrees and look down on it, or position it so that it’s possible to use the camera from below, but that’s about all you can do.

Autofocus can also be a little loud. We’re not quite sure why this happened, but you’ll hear a faint almost white-noise like sound when you try to focus using the AF motor.

Don’t be alarmed, as it appears to be normal, just a touch surprising.

Conclusion

With the compact camera market in decline and interchangeable devices coming out in droves, consumers eager to buy a camera they can grow with are truly spoiled for choice. Nearly every manufacturer has something decent, and the old idea of “pick it up and see if it’s comfy in your hands” doesn’t always give you the best result.

In the E-P5, though, Olympus has built something that is brilliant in so many ways that the camera is hard to fault. We had so much fun with this camera, and whether we were taking shots from afar or up close, the E-P5 performed admirably, so much so that we didn’t want to give it back.

The ergonomics are excellent, as is the button placement. The image quality is lovely, and the colours crisp. And then there’s that whole WiFi side of things, that makes not only possible to import your images to your phone or tablet wirelessly, but to control the camera altogether.

All up, the Olympus E-P5 is impressive, and it’s a camera that is very easy to recommend because frankly, it’s wonderful.

Price (RRP)

$999 (body only)

Pros & Cons

Product Pros

Excellent ergonomics and design; Build quality is pretty solid; Fantastic image quality; Great menu system; Art modes can be modified and bracketed; Built-in flash; Battery life lasted better than we expected; WiFi control works tremendously well for both remote shooting and image importing;

Product Cons

Autofocus seems to be a little louder than it should be; Paint wears down quickly; Vari-angle LCD doesn't have a lot of movement;

Ratings

Overall

Features

Value for money

Performance

Ease of Use

Design

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